George Freeman is MP for Mid Norfolk, Minister for Life Sciences and Chair of the 2020 Group. Anne-Marie Trevelyan is MP for Berwick.
A political earthquake has just shaken the British establishment. The ramifications of last week’s decision will shape British politics for a generation. Not since the Great Reform Act of 1832, Home Rule, the 1911 Crisis of Liberalism or 1945 have we seen a moment of such electrifying political change. It will test the constitution, Parliament and all the institutions of our country. A recently elected Prime Minister has resigned from office following an insurgency of grassroots frustration, mobilised by an extraordinarily effective Leave campaign. Scotland is threatening to break up the UK. An old order has passed, and a new order has yet to take its place. We have seen nothing quite like this before.
The key question now is how to unite as a country, as well as a party in Government and Parliament. As two MPs from the 2010 and 2015 intakes, a supporter of Remain and a supporter of Leave, we believe this is a moment that requires all of us – whichever way we voted – to join together now to ensure the Brexit negotiations and new Government lay the basis for a renaissance of confidence, hope and unity for our country, all its people, and its place in the world.
This is a profound moment in our national political history. We face arguably the most serious political challenge for half a century. Of course, the immediate priority is stabilising the markets by setting out a clear strategy for handling the Brexit negotiations so that people can have confidence in our thriving as an outward-looking, entrepreneurial economy in the 21st century.
But we must also be clear that the success of the Leave campaign was driven in part by an insurgent movement motivated by a range of domestic issues arising from the crash of 2008/9 and the structural issues underlying it: resentment at a combination of QE and austerity which appears to benefit the wealthiest, council cuts to local services, youth indebtedness and structural deficit which breaks the covenant between the generations, a model of growth based on high levels of low cost immigrant welfare, and a growing disconnect between a mainstream political establishment seemingly detached from the pain experienced by the communities it serves. The result spoke to a host of challenges which people feel the political class are not sharing or tackling. The result was as much a roar at unaccountable elites in the UK as in Brussels, left-behind communities trying to make their voices heard. If we deliver Brexit but ignore that domestic anger, we will have failed to take up the full challenge presented to us by this referendum result.
Like many of the 2010 and 2015 intakes – the biggest injection of fresh MPs since World War Two – we came to Parliament after the damaging sagas of the Iraq vote and the ‘dodgy dossier’, the bank bailout and the expenses scandal to try to re-earn and restore faith in our democracy. Those of us who campaigned in the last two elections have come to Parliament through a baptism of fire on the doorsteps. The truth is this insurgency has been incubating and building for many years and Westminster has been too slow to react. As all sides acknowledge, this campaign has not exactly been a shop window for British politics at its best, and it is our job now to rebuild trust in our politics and parliamentary democracy by tackling the underlying causes of the domestic insurgency which has rocked our country.
This leadership contest therefore has to be about much more than personalities, post-referendum recriminations or reconciliations, or the fate of individual MPs. It has to be a debate about how 21st Century conservatism can accommodate the realities of globalisation in a model of growth that works for all parts of our society.
As the 2020 Conservatives Group has been outlining in our work on a bolder package of One Nation reforms, we need to set out a more energetic, enterprising programme for recovery based on a more dynamic model of public and private sector enterprise, tackling cosy ‘cartel capitalism’ ‘to drive a new wave of disruptive entrepreneurship, bolder local civic empowerment, new models of philanthropic and mutualist social investment, a technology-enabled 21st Century approach to public services, a New Deal for the new generation and bolder party and parliamentary reform.
Recent experience has shown that we can’t credibly offer the economics of austerity and the political promise of a brighter tomorrow without the bold reforming policies which give people hope that through the pain of change comes new opportunity. To do that, we need to take this political opportunity to reboot a more inspiring and coherent programme for recovery that’s honest about the scale of the challenges we face and seeks to tackle the productivity and growth challenge in a way that creates opportunities for people to improve their own lot more easily, rather than have to accept a decade of passively working harder for less. We need an economic model which invests in the people we need to help us out of debt, and allows them a greater stake in our shared success. A model of economic recovery based on shared values as much as share value, and a fairer balance of risk and reward.
Who will stand for this agenda in the leadership? We aren’t standing but we write voicing the concerns of many new generation Conservative MPs. Like many in our intakes, we believe that thriving as an independent country will require thinking more boldly about every area of our political economy. The upcoming leadership contest must not be merely a coronation or personality contest, but a serious moment to define the shape of a bolder programme of domestic reforms which develop ‘the ties that bind us’ – as a society, economy and nation; and the role the UK wants to play in the 21st century globe.
The secret weapon of the Conservative Party has always been its timeless values – belief in personal responsibility, the importance of work and enterprise, family, community and philanthropy; small business, civic society and the ‘little platoons’ of progress through enlightened self interest and social responsibility. Evolution not revolution, adapting to the challenges of the day.
As a Government and a party, we must now come together to implement the will of the people – on Brexit and the underlying issues the referendum gave voice to. We need to speak for a longer term programme of recovery which invests in and nurtures our ability to thrive as an independent United Kingdom. A One Nation programme of renewal and recovery. This is a pivotal moment in the history of our country and our Party. We must embrace it, harness it and shape it to the common good.